After being devastated by its countrywide genocide in 1994 (documented in the subsequent film ten years later), Rwanda has since made a significant comeback. It has pushed aside its war-torn stereotypes (as best it can) and created a tourism industry that is steadily growing, thanks to the country’s first democratically elected president, Paul Kagame, and Rosette Chantal Rugamba, the director general of the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN).
The New York Times reported that Rugamba has several plans to keep Rwanda afloat. One of the main initiatives reserves a portion of tourism-generated proceeds for local villagers. This allows them “tangible incentives to stop poaching wildlife, cutting trees and drawing water from the national parks,” according to the Times. Her plan is to allocate five percent of all tourism revenue to a variety of community projects, including the cultivation of bamboo, construction of water tanks, and a multitude of beekeeping and handicraft programs to encourage villagers to sell their handmade items to tourists.
Of course, Rwanda’s main attraction is its mountain gorillas, perhaps made most famous by zoologist Dian Fossey (and film Gorillas in the Mist). “One of the first mandates of the existing government was, ‘Do not touch the gorillas,”’ Rugamba told the Times. The Times reported that the mountain gorilla population in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo has grown to about 720 since 1989.
In an effort to entice luxury tourists (who spend about $200 per day, according to the Rwanda tourist office), Serena Hotels, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, opened two lavish resorts: Lake Kivu Serena, on one of Africa’s largest lakes, and Kigali Serena, just six miles from Kigali International Airport. Rwandan agencies hope these luxury hotels will keep paying tourists in the country for at least one week, instead of passing through on a tour through Uganda or Kenya.
For the sustainable tourist looking for a more hands-on Rwandan experience, check out Rwanda Eco-Tours or Terra Incognita Ecotours, both of which donate proceeds to the local communities.
- Nat Geo Expeditions